The Ravine: #5

I’m still trying to get the feel of my memories of the Ravine communicated in a painting. It turns out, nostalgia is tough to paint. Especially when you aren’t feeling particularly nostalgic.

I really dislike this image, and hesitated to post about it, but I’m trying to be good about posting the progress. My hope is that I will progress to the point where I’m proud of my paintings on a regular basis. If I get to that point, and some other reader wants to do the same in the future, I hope that they will see a steady progress from failed paintings to successful ones. It can be so inspiring and simultaneously discouraging to look at the artwork by people who excel at this. Watching videos of them paint is a sharpened version of that double-edged sword.

This morning before work, I started this painting. I sat at my desk for a bit with my eyes closed, and my head in my hands trying to get the image in my memory more clearly rendered as an image I could paint. Memories are strange that way. In my mind, I have a very clear picture of one spot in the Ravine. To my left is a tree, belong that, the ground hogs out a bit overhanging the water. There are roots there that we used to climb down into the creek so we could cross here by stepping on the stones at the top of this small waterfall. To my right there is another tree, and around me are brambles. It’s dark here, but the creek in front of me is well lit, and on the other shore it’s grey and mostly not even there. The tree on my left is very prominent, as are the roots, and the brambles. But that image in my mind is a mirage. The moment I try to stop and look at it the way you look at a photo you mean to draw, it starts to dissipate into sounds and smells. I can see the whole thing very clearly in an instant, all at once, but looking at the details makes it go black. It’s like staring at one star in the sky. If you look at it long enough directly, it goes away. But if you look just to the right or left, it pops back into the sky.

After struggling to picture this memory more clearly, I tried to draw it. The opposite shore isn’t far. The waterfall isn’t high or particularly steep. The pool above the waterfall is brownish Blue-grey. And there is a large tree further up stream, too far upstream to fit in the image, but I know it’s there. I started by drawing the big shapes, and hoped the feel of the memory would take shape as I painted. Then, I laid down an initial wash.

The rock isn’t in my memory, but I thought it would help the composition.

I have been trying to loosen up my style a lot, but stay very intentional. I’ve been watching videos of Joseph Zbukvic paint, and studying what artwork I can find of his online (fortunately, there’s a lot.) I particularly like the way his style is both loose and precise at the same time. It’s something I very much want to improve on myself. I’m sure much of the punch in his style comes from the confidence with which he paints, as well as his pre-planning. I really should buy one of his. Vimeo tutorials to try to learn more from him.

Anyway, I tried to paint this in much the same way I have seen him paint, with a steep incline, and wet drops of pigment placed confidently, with large slashing motions at first, gradually becoming smaller and more precise as he progresses to darker values.

For this initial wash, I started with the trees on the opposite shore. I wanted to lay that shape down as a hazy suggestion, and then leave it alone. I used Indie Blue and Raw Umber. Indie Blue because it’s heavily staining, and will stay put. Raw Umber because it makes a nice grey with Indie Blue. I laid those down, and dappled some cadmium Yellow here and there. I know the cad Yellow is fairly opaque, and I wanted to ensure it stood out strong against the grey. Then, I knifed in some trees, and painted darker rocks at the edge, which I knifed as well. I would have been more successful had I not knifed – this is the background after all- I don’t want the tight detail that knifing gives.

Then, I painted the grass below my feet. I should have painted the creek first, but I would have had to wait for the distant trees to dry first, and I knew I only had a half-hour before I’d have to get to work. I should have just let it sit and come back at lunch for the creek, but I was impatient and just went to the foreground, hoping to come back to the creek at lunch.

I was so concerned with making sure to paint that jog in the hill where we would climb down the roots that I painted it too sharply, and it feels out of perspective. I left room for the large trees, which was probably unnecessary since they are going to be so dark. The rock that I added at the base of the tree doesn’t exist in my memory, but – I wanted a rock. Hey, it’s my painting.

It’s starting to go south…

At lunch, I painted the creek and that rock. I felt rushed, and need to stop trying to squeeze painting time in with every spare twenty minutes.

Make it stop!

After work, I bought pizza. Then I added these bits of disaster. I really don’t like this painting and I’ve talked a lot about it – so I’m going to stop now.


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